Saturday, 20 September 2008

Et vitam venturi saeculi

My Latin always had major flaws, so I'll ask those with better facility to be kind if my heading is faulty. :)

Recently, I attended Mass at a nearby church which I periodically visit. A very intense young priest mentioned that Pope Benedict had issued a new encyclical about eschatology. (I could not locate this on-line - perhaps it is still in preparation.) I could understand the sentiments expressed in the brief sermon - the celebrant was disappointed because he'd hoped the encyclical would refer to how things would be in heaven.

I can sympathise. Not that I have any idea of what heaven would be like - and I'm not about to speculate about the parousia or our resurrection, even though I constantly refer to cosmic redemption. (I am wondering how Pope Benedict might be expected to be able to describe the next life... but let's leave that for the moment.) I can recognise the truth in the pope's viewpoint, having been privileged to have read both his brilliant work, Eschatology, and having such quotes on hand as this one:

"Heaven, therefore, must first and foremost be determined christologically. It is not an extra-historical place into which one goes. Heaven's existence depends upon the fact that Jesus Christ, as God, is man, and makes space for human existence in the existence of God himself...It is by being with Christ that we find the true location of our existence as human beings...Christ is the temple of the final age; he is heaven, the new Jerusalem, he is the cultic space for God...

If heaven depends on being in Christ, then it must involve a co-being with all those who, together, constitute the body of Christ. Heaven is a stranger to isolation. It is the open society of the communion of saints, and in this way the fulfilment of all human communion."

For the record, all of this fits in neatly with my form of spirituality, which is based on the Incarnation, a dynamic Creator, our deification and so forth. That doesn't mean I really understand - or that I don't pine for a world without the suffering and sadness of this one - or that I even have the slightest notion of what Jesus meant (or his hearers' may have thought) when he said the kingdom of God was present.

I have no answers for my readers - only questions. :) As much as we may pine for union with God, I think we all know that it is a constant quest in which every slight awareness of divine majesty leaves us all the more aware of the limitations of our own vision. Still, considering the bleakness this earth often holds, I think many of us would feel a wee bit dishonest denying that we hope for an afterlife which is total joy. Hands up, everyone who aches for intimacy with the divine, yet still would admit (even with a blush) that we hope such a quest will mean a time when we are unhampered by the pains of this earth.

Not that the pope is in any way denying this! But he is affirming a great truth - that the kingdom of heaven is not 'out there,' and that One who would face the horrors of crucifixion proclaimed that it was at hand.

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